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Winona County Historical Society to host Pioneer School at new location (07/14/2013)
By Jen Burris

Photo by Jen Burris
     The Little Red Schoolhouse, the one-room schoolhouse on the St. Charles fairgrounds, where the Winona County Historical Society will be hosting Pioneer School

July 22-24 and July 29-31.

The Winona County Historical Society (WCHS) previously held Pioneer School at the Arches Museum of Pioneer Life; this year it will be held at the Little Red Schoolhouse. The Arches Museum is currently closed for repairs as WCHS decides the future of the museum.

Background on

the Arches Museum

The Arches Museum was temporarily closed after the caretaker and founder Walter Rahn passed away in the early 1980s, according to Mark F. Peterson, director of WCHS. Soon after the closing a group of Winona area residents formed to convince WCHS to revamp the ailing museum. The Arches Museum was successfully reopened, but over the years the attendance has steadily declined. The lack of attendance, combined with lingering damages from the 2007 flood, have caused the property to be closed for repairs.

“We’ve been searching for an idea of what to do with the Arches, because frankly the attendance out there has been very low, especially the last couple of years,” Peterson said. “The board has been doing some brainstorming, not just about the Arches Museum, but also the Bunnell House, as well; we’re always talking about our properties and how we can make them better.” One idea is to move the Arches Museum to the Winona County fairgrounds. The plan requires the cooperation of the fair’s board members, who seem to be interested, Peterson explained. WCHS would have to sell the property where the Arches Museum is currently located to generate the sufficient revenue to move the building.

The Winona County Fair gets almost 40,000 people each year. If even 20 percent of those visitors stopped to see the Historical Society buildings, that would be a huge influx of traffic, Peterson noted.

“We have given the Arches Museum a good faith effort, but the attendance doesn’t seem to warrant it [continued investment]; it’s just not a good location for a museum,” Peterson explained. “We think there are more advantages and more opportunities to reach people; that’s why we are pursuing the idea.”

The Little Red Schoolhouse has been housed at the St. Charles fairgrounds since 1955, when the Historical Society moved it there. In the early 1980’s, the Historical Society gave the deed to the county fair board. If the Arches Museum is moved, it will be placed near the Little Red Schoolhouse. The Historical Society would like to have the building moved by the time the County Fair rolls around in 2014, but this is contingent on the current Arches property selling and sufficient funds being raised.

“There are a lot of historical societies around the state that are headquartered on county fairgrounds. It seems to make sense,” Peterson explained. “We think it’s a really good way to help us do a better job of fulfilling our mission.”

Background on the Little Red Schoolhouse

According to WCHS archives, the Little Red Schoolhouse was built in 1904 and opened in 1905. It was one of the last one-room school houses built in the area. It was used for 39 years before it closed in 1944. The class sizes ranged from four to 13 students, and 35 teachers taught at the school over time. WCHS purchased the building for $375 and spent $600 in 1955 to move it to the fairgrounds in St. Charles. The fairgrounds is nine miles away from its original location. The school was initially referred to as the Gainey School in honor of the Gainey family that owned adjoining farmland. In the 1980s WCHS gave the deed to the county fair board.

Pioneer School

Pioneer School, previously held at Arches Museum, will be held at the Little Red Schoolhouse this year. This program has been going on for over 30 years, according to Jennifer Weaver, assistant director of WCHS. There are two Pioneer School sessions open to children ages six to 12. Currently there are spots open in both sessions; the first session runs from July 22 to 24 and the second session runs from July 29 to 31. Pioneer Days is a morning activity, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Cost is $17 for WCHS members and $20 for non-members.

“We get a lot of last-minute sign-ups the week before because the parents usually like to watch the weather,” Weaver noted. “It’ll happen rain or shine because they can always do activities inside.”

Cheri Weaver will be teaching Pioneer school for the second year in a row. There are no strict school lessons; they try to keep it fun, writing in old handbooks and doing art projects, Weaver said. Some of the activities held include washing clothes in a washtub, churning butter, and other similar skills they would have needed to learn about 100 years ago.

“A lot of kids are excited to see and participate in activities they’ve read about in Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the American Girl book series,” Weaver explained. The program provides the opportunity to dress up in their own pioneer costumes and offers clothing pieces for children to try on. “It’s like going back in time and playing pretend,” Weaver noted.

Weaver reminds participants that they are responsible for transportation to the fairgrounds.

The Historical Society requires preregistration for Pioneer Days, to guarantee a spot and give WCHS a chance to learn about the kids. For instance, “We ask about food allergies for snack preparation, so we have an idea of what to plan,” Weaver explained.

To sign up for Pioneer Days or for more information, call 507-454-2723 extension 0.



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